Happy with Brahma’s boons, Hiranyakashipu captured heaven and earth. Very soon Indra, Kubera, Varuna and Yama became his vassals. However, Hiranyakashipu was not happy. The boon of immortality, his conquests and achievements did not give him any peace of mind. His hatred for Narayana, who killed his brother, was consuming him. The fire of hatred so engulfed him that he became obsessed with Narayana. This hatred led to more atrocities on the devotees of Narayana, since the asuras (demons) were particularly instructed to harass them. To save themselves, the devotees pretended to be worshipping Hiranyakashipu. In their hearts, they kept praying to Narayana to save them. Nilanjana retells the story of Bhakt Prahalada and Narayana and how a major avatar, Narsimha destroyed the evil demon-king, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
Hiranyaksha (whom Narayana had killed in the form of Adi Varaha) had a twin brother, Hiranyakashipu. He was livid at the death of his brother since he thought that Narayana had unjustly killed his brother. He ordered his people to destroy all devotees of Narayana.
The asuras (demons) took his words very seriously and began harassing anybody who came across as a devotee of the divine. They destroyed the ashrams (retreats) of rishis (sages), cut down trees, destroyed homes and made life miserable for everyone. They even did not spare the devas (divine beings), who abandoned their heaven and moved around in disguises.
Hiranyakashipu comforted his relatives mourning the death of his brother, “The atman (soul) is eternal. It is because of some karma (action of the past) that the soul takes re-birth, meets people in this world and gets separated. The soul has no death and death of a hero in a battle should not be mourned. I think you should abandon your grief and we should figure out ways of avenging Narayana.”
With his desire to be immortal, Hiranyakashipu began strict tapas (penance) to please Brahma. It is believed that he continued his tapas for ages, and the glow of his tapas was so strong that the earth became scorching hot. The devas went to Brahma for help.
Brahma rushed down to meet Hiranyakashipu and blessed him. But Hiranyakashipu was adamant. He sought immortality. Brahma sighed, “Considering that I am myself not immortal, I cannot give you that boon.” But Hiranyakahsipu would not budge. Finally Brahma negotiated, “Why don’t you select things from which you’d like to immune yourself and I can grant that.”
Hiranyakashipu thought that was a good idea. He began his wish-list:
“None of your creations can kill me,
No weapon should kill me,
I must not die inside or outside of the house,
Not during day or during night,
Not on the earth or the sky,
God or man or animal cannot kill me,
Devas, asuras or reptiles should not be able to kill me.”
He thought he covered it all. Brahma granted his boon and vanished from his sight.
Happy with Brahma’s boons, Hiranyakashipu began his asuric joyride. He captured heaven and earth. Very soon Indra, Kubera, Varuna and Yama became his vassals. However, Hiranyakashipu was not happy. The boon of immortality, his conquests and achievements did not give him any peace of mind. His hatred for Narayana, who killed his brother, was consuming him. The fire of hatred so engulfed him that he became obsessed with Narayana.
This hatred led to more atrocities on the devotees of Narayana, since the asuras (demons) were particularly instructed to harass them. To save themselves, the devotees pretended to be worshipping Hiranyakashipu. In their hearts, they kept praying to Narayana to save them.
The devas approached Narayana for help. Narayana assured them, “I am aware of the atrocities that Hiranyakashipu and his people are inflicting on everybody. Do not worry. His very acts of unrighteousness will bring his end. Soon, he will have a son, Prahlada, who will be an epitome of devotion and righteousness. When he starts inflicting pains on his son, I will have to intervene and bring an end to this.”
Assured the devas went away. They realised that they had to bear the current situation with patience and fortitude, for nothing lasts long!
In course of time, Hiranyakashipu had four sons – Samhrada, Anuhrada, Hrada and Prahlada. The youngest, Prahlada was an exception to the ways that his father propagated. He was truthful, humble, and compassionate, loved all living beings, had a good heart and had no ego with senses under control.
Many years back, when Hiranyakashipu was performing tapas (penance) to please Brahma, the devas had attacked the asuras. Prahlada’s mother, who was then pregnant with Prahlada, was captured by Indra. Eventually Rishi (Sage) Narada rescued her from Indra (the king of the devas) and took her to his hermitage.
Narada took special care of her during her pregnancy and guided her through Bhakti Yoga1 . He explained to her the easiest way to reach the divine. He explained that the atman (soul) in our body is just a figment of the paramatman (eternal soul). This is the ultimate truth; hence the duality that we think is real is actually unreal. We are all always connected with Narayana, the divine.
Hiranyakashipu’s Queen soon forgot all that she had heard, but the little Prahlada inside her was born with all the knowledge!
Sukhra (the guru of the asuras) deployed both his sons, Chanda and Amaraka, as the teachers of Prahlada. Their job was to initiate and train Prahlada in the codes of the asuras. Prahlada seemed to be a good student and his teachers were happy with his progress.
One day Hiranyakashipu began chatting with his son very fondly. He casually wanted to check the progress of his son the sanctioned asuric ways of education. He pulled his son lovingly on his lap and asked him, “Now that you are taking lessons from your teachers, I just wanted to ask you a few things.”
“Yes,” Prahlada replied.
“What do you think is the best thing in this world?”
“Umm…” Prahlada began, “I think most people are unhappy. That is because they are caught in the delusional world of “I” and “mine”. If they can abandon this false notion that will only lead to their downfall, they are sure to be happier. They should take refuge in the divine, in Narayana.”
Hiranyakashipu did not know what to say. He reasoned that his son was just a child of five and was repeating what he may have heard from others. He called Prahlada’s teachers and asked them to keep strict vigil on his son so that the devotees of Narayana, like Narada, cannot exercise any bad influence on his son.
Later on, the teachers asked little Prahlada, who all he was talking to. They assured him that he will not be punished. Prahlada smiled and told them, “It is the divine who instills such thoughts in me. The moment the divine blesses you, all thoughts of duality disappear. You realise that “I” and “mine” are just illusions that lead to ignorance and sorrow. When the duality disappears, you get attracted to the divine like a magnet attracts iron.”
Prahlada’s teachers, Chanda and Amaraka, were quite flabbergasted. Unable to find any other alternative, they threatened him with punishment. After some time, they thought that the fear of punishment has brought Prahlada back on track.
After some months, Hiranyakashipu summoned his son again, to check on his progress in the ways of life preferred by him. The king asked his son, “Now that your teachers have taught you so much, can you tell me something that will make me happy?”
“Yes. I have learnt nine important lessons.”
“Really? What are they?”
“Shravana( listening), Kirtana (singing), Smarana (meditation), Padasevana (serving), Archana (praising), Vandana (worshipping), Dasya (slaving), Sakhyam (be-friending) and Atmanivedana (total surrender of the self).”
“That is great! Any of these will just make me very happy. You have learnt well.”
Hiranyakashipu was all praises for his son and the teachers.
“But Father,” Prahlada clarified, “These nine methods are for the Divine, for Narayana. Since he is all pervading, one can use any of these approaches to connect with him.”
Hiranyakashipu was silent; the lull before the storm was short-lived. Suddenly, he burst out at Prahlada’s teachers, “Is this what you’ll have been teaching him? Has your loyalty shifted to the murderer of my brother?”
The teachers panicked, “No, we haven’t taught anything like this. He seems to know all this on his own!”
Hiranyakashipu turned towards his son, “Since your teachers say they haven’t taught you any of these, from where did you learn all this?”
Unperturbed, Prahlada replied, “Unfortunately Father, you don’t seem to understand that all material possessions that you are running after, all your power, strength, ambitions are no match to the greatness of Narayana. Unless you get unattached to all these things, you will never be able to be close to the Truth. And the Truth is Narayana, the Divine. The desire for the Lord should come on its own.”
Hiranyakashipu was angry beyond words. Slowly, he gathered himself and ordered, “Put this child to death. In my presence, he is praising my enemy, the one who killed my brother. When he praises his “Lord”, I can see my enemy standing in front of me. Since he has renounced his father for his “Lord”, he should be killed as soon as possible.”
As per the King’s order, his henchmen prepared themselves to kill Prahlada.
The henchmen deployed their dreadful weapons to kill Prahlada. But the weapons could not even leave a mark on him. They, then, tried various other methods – releasing wild elephants on him, throwing him into a pit full of poisonous snakes, throwing him off a steep cliff, administering edible poison, burning him alive. However, nothing worked. Hiranyakashipu was angry at not be able to handle a little boy of five.
Prahlada’s teachers approached the king and offered an alternative. They agreed to take the child away and amuse him with sense-objects. Hiranyakashipu agreed and Prahlada was once again in the house of his teachers, being taught the same lessons in other interesting ways.
Prahlada’s classmates were very fond of him. Since he was a friendly and charming child, they liked spending time with him. Slowly they all began hearing stories and praises of Narayana and the path of Bhakti. Eventually Prahlada had initiated them all to his way of thinking.
When Hiranyakashipu heard this, he decided to take the whole matter in his own hand and kill his son. He thought that others were being kind to a five-year- old, and, therefore, earlier attempts to kill Prahlada had gone futile. Anyway, his love for his son, who was constantly singing praises for his enemy, had long disappeared.
At Hiranyakashipu’s order, Prahlada was brought to the assembly. He stood humbly in front of his father with folded hands. Hiranyakashipu barked, “Don’t show me these artificial displays of respect when you keep singing praises of my enemy all the time. You have tried my patience and enough is enough.”
“Father,” Prahlada spoke softly, “I am just trying to tell you the truth. I am not as bad a son as you think. I want to help you. The Divine, Lord Narayana, is all powerful. He pervades everything and can create, sustain and destroy at will. He is not your enemy. On the contrary, your mind is your enemy. It has created his feeling of duality in you. That has given birth to the dreaded enemies: Kama (Lust), Krodha (Anger), Lobha (Greed), Moha (Delusion), Mada (Arrogance), Matsara (Envy). If you can conquer your mind, you will be able to control these enemies.”
“How modest you are! You are teaching your own father!” Hiranyakashipu continued, “So tell me where this Lord Narayana of yours is?”
“He is everywhere.”
“Even inside this pillar?”
Hiranyakashipu looked around the pillar and could see nothing. He glared at Prahlada, “Now I will kill you. Let your Lord come and protect you.” Hiranyakashipu hit the pillar with his sword.
An unusual commotion drew everybody’s attention. Gradually a strange uproar took over the world as a peculiar looking creature walked out of the pillar. The head till the waist was that of a lion and the rest was of a human being. His eyes were glaring and his tongue red, as if dipped in blood. His mane emanated a golden glow. Narayana had assumed a terrible form as Narasimha (half-man, half-lion).
“This is neither a man, not an animal! He does not even look like a creation of Brahma.”
Hiranyakashipu thought. Suddenly his memory took his years back to the boon he had asked for.
“None of your creations can kill me,
No weapon should kill me
I must not die inside or outside of the house
Not during day or during night
Not on the earth or the sky
God or man or animal cannot kill me
Devas, asuras or reptiles should not be able to kill me.”
Hiranyakashipu hit the figure with his mace. Narasimha lifted him and took him to the door of the hall. He was neither inside nor outside the house. Hiranyakashipu saw that the Sun was about to set – so neither was it day, nor night. Narasimha placed Hiranyakashipu on his lap, so he was neither on the earth nor on the sky. Narasimha tore his entrails out with his claws, hence no weapon was used.
Narasimha looked fiercely around. Nature was reflecting his wrath. The oceans were tossing wildly, the earth was trembling with fear, day and night had lost their glow, the planets seemed to be under an eclipse and there was havoc all around.
The Gods had assembled there, but nobody could fathom how to calm Narasimha down. Brahma approached Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Narayana, and asked her to calm him down. She denied, “I have not seen him in such a mood. I am not sure.”
Brahma then approached Prahlada, “Since the Lord has taken this form for you, please try to calm him down.”
Unruffled, Prahlada approached Narasimha. He fell at his feet and prayed. Narasimha took the five year old and seated him on his lap. At that moment itself, the secrets of the universe were revealed to him. Prahlada gained immense knowledge. He also realised that bhakti (devotion) can win over the Divine. In fact, the Divine can assume any form to help his devotee out.
Narasimha had already calmed down. He offered Prahlada a boon of his choice.
Prahlada smiled, “I have been blessed with the most scared knowledge and your presence. I do not desire anything else. But since you have asked, please grant me the boon by which you will permanently reside in my heart and I will not be deluded by the illusory charms of the world.”
“So be it!” Narasimha granted the boon and disappeared from their sight.
1. Bhakti Yoga – Bhakti means devotion. Upheld in Srimad Bhagavatam, devotion to the divine is the easiest way to reach liberation from the karmic (action-based) cycle of birth and death. Other ways are Karma Yoga and Gnyana Yoga.
Footnote: Srimad Bhagavatam is often called the Bhagavad Purana. Authored by Ved Vyasa, the stories are about the various avatars (incarnations) of Lord Vishnu, also known as Narayana.
Photos from the internet.
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A story-teller at heart, Nilanjana Dey is on a journey to experiment with fiction and poetry. Her first novel, largely aimed towards children, is titled ‘The Adventures of Puti – The Cheese Trail’. Her poems have been published at various prestigious portals. An alumni of English Literature from Jadavpur University (Kolkata), she is a marketing and communication professional based in Mumbai. She volunteers with a Mumbai based NGO working with the marginalised sections of the society.